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International News

BIG-BRAINED MINNOWS OF TOMORROW COULD FACE COGNITIVE CHALLENGES IN WARMER WATERS

Climate change could leave freshwater fish with bigger brains but a reduced ability to effectively explore their surroundings, scientists have found. In order to survive, the world’s aquatic life will need to adapt to the warmer waters which global heating will produce in the coming decades.

New research by University of Glasgow biologists suggests that the physiological changes fish will undergo in warmer rivers might require them to trade brains for brawn, with potentially challenging consequences.

In order to test how living in warmer waters might affect cold-blooded freshwater fish, researchers from the University’s Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health & Comparative Medicine fished minnows from the River Kelvin, close to the University, and split them into two groups.

One group of minnows was raised in tanks filled with water kept at the river’s usual temperature of 14°C. The other spent their time in tanks heated to 20°C, at the higher end of the temperature range climate scientists expect the River Kelvin could reach by the end of the 21st century.

Over the course of eight months, the researchers paid close attention to each minnow’s physiology and behaviour, and watched how they interacted with their environment.

Measuring the minnows’ oxygen consumption at rest and during exercise showed that the fish in the warmer tanks used more energy in both states, suggesting their metabolisms had ratcheted up as they adapted to the heat.

The researchers also observed that the minnows from the 20°C tanks also developed bigger brains than their cooler counterparts. However, despite their bigger brains, they performed significantly more poorly in a test designed to measure their ability to navigate and find food.

They struggled to navigate a maze to reach a mealworm, and even though they had four attempts to learn the layout of the puzzle, their performance did not improve with repetition.

USING BIG DATA IN MARINE SCIENCE

A University of Aberdeen scientist co-authored a report commissioned by the European Marine Board to investigate recent advances, challenges and opportunities for using big data to support marine science.

The term big data refers to digital data that are high volume, high velocity, and high variety and they enable enhanced decision-making, insight discovery and process optimisation. Big data offer the potential to transform the way we understand the ocean through more complex and transdisciplinary analyses and novel approaches to the dynamic management of marine resources.

The report covered several case studies where a big data approach had been applied including climate and marine biogeochemistry, habitat mapping for marine conservation and food provision from seas and the ocean.

Dr Tara Marshall, from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, summarised how the big data approach was being utilised in aquaculture to manage sea-lice outbreaks in Norway.

Dr Marshall said: “Sea-lice are external parasites that kill young salmon and reduce disease resistance in both juveniles and adults. Infection rates increased as global salmon farming expanded throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and while the use of biopesticides provided a short-term solution, their efficacy declined due to increasing resistance.

“Currently, sea-lice pose a significant challenge to the growth of the global salmon farming industry. Big data are becoming a part of industry-led solutions for combating sea-lice by taking advantage of the wealth of environmental and production-level data being collected and shared in real-time. These data can be used to predict when and where outbreaks will occur such that measures can be introduced to limit spread of sea-lice.

“The European Marine Board report makes a number of recommendations for how marine science can scale-up the use of big data in aquaculture. For example, by creating effective collaborations across government, industry, universities and the digital sector to deliver real-time operational data analytics for forecasting sea-lice outbreaks. The development of smart sensors, camera-based sea-lice counters, automated fish welfare monitoring systems and improved automated environmental monitoring systems will also expand the information base available to marine scientists."

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the report was officially launched at an online event last month. More than 300 delegates attended the webinar, at which several of the case studies were presented. Dr Marshall was a panellist at the event.

She continued: “I was delighted to be part of the team commissioned by the European Marine Board to investigate the use of big data in marine science. We often hear of big data in relation to other disciplines, however, it can – and I am sure will – play an important part in the future development of marine science including applications to seafood production.”

$88 MILLION FOR FISHING COMMUNITIES AFFECTED BY SPILLWAY OPENING

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the allocation of $88 million in fishery disaster funding to Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where a catastrophic regional fishery disaster occurred due to extreme freshwater flooding in 2019 associated with the unprecedented opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. “The Department of Commerce stands with our U.S. fishing communities, especially in times of hardship,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These funds will help industries and individuals recover from this disaster, and build resilience for the future.”

Fisheries play a critical role for coastal economies, providing jobs for fishermen, fish processors, and other related maritime industries. However, fisheries can experience natural disaster events and other circumstances beyond the control of fishery managers, resulting in sudden and unexpected losses to fisheries and leading to serious economic impacts to those who rely on them.

Funds can be used to address a range of impacts including impacts to commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, charter businesses, subsistence users, processors, shore-side infrastructure, and the fishing ecosystem and environment. Activities that can be considered for funding include infrastructure projects, habitat restoration, state-run vessel and fishing permit buybacks, and job retraining.

In addition to these funds, the President recently signed into law other Federal financial assistance programs, including several programs at the Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture that can provide some help to some fishermen and related businesses.

INDONESIA CONDEMNS ABUSE ON CHINESE BOATS

A report in the Australian states that Indonesia's government has condemned the allegedly slave-like conditions that its seamen were forced to endure while working on four Chinese-flagged fishing vessels.

"We condemn the inhumane treatment that our crewmen suffered while working onboard Chinese-owned vessels. Based on the information from the crew members, the treatment has violated human rights," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a press briefing on Sunday.

Marsudi said she has met with 14 crew members who arrived in Jakarta over the weekend from Busan, South Korea, where 46 crew members had disembarked in late April.

One crew member died of pneumonia in a hospital in Busan. Others have gone back to work as the vessels have resumed operations.

She said the 14 crew members told her of abusive working conditions on the vessels and some of them had not received any of their salary. "I also found out from them that their working hours were inhumane, more than 18 hours per day," the foreign minister said.

The incident came to light after one of the crewmen told a South Korean broadcaster of the exploitation that Indonesian fishermen suffered onboard the Chinese vessels.

The unidentified crew member provided the broadcaster with a clip showing a bag containing the body of an Indonesian crew member being thrown overboard for a burial at sea.

Two other deceased Indonesian crew members had reportedly been buried at sea in the Pacific Ocean in December 2019.